There were no flashing lights or mobs of reporters for this group of players. No lavish team presentations, no impromptu fan rallies, and certainly, no hour-long TV specials.
It was the summer of free agents and the league did not disappoint in the speculation, drama, and subsequent backlash that came from it. The media world stayed well-armed with cameras and recorders ready for the latest news out of South Beach, New York, or Chicago. But for these guys, things were much different when they inked their deals. Just the players themselves, a contract and a chance to make their mark on the hoops world.
For these men, the summer was far different from what it was for your LeBrons, your Carlos Boozers, even your 38-year-old Shaqs. Career journeymen or up-and-comers stuck in the wrong system, or behind the wrong players, waiting for their chance to find their niche.
But for well-informed front offices and fanbases, these are often the signings that can win championships or earn playoff berths. Think of the San Antonio Spurs bringing in an unknown Stephen Jackson in 2001 to push for a roster spot, or later, taking a flier on Brent Barry in 2004 to see if the former Slam Dunk Champion had anything left in the tank. Or the Detroit Pistons rolling the dice on an up-and-coming Chauncey Billups in 2002.
These players are poised to help a veteran team make another deep playoff run or help bring together a youthful group looking to carve their place in the NBA hierarchy.
These 10 players will factor heavily in the 2010-11 NBA season. You just may not realize it yet.
Last Season: Orlando Magic
This Season: L.A. Lakers
The former Bruin’s eighth NBA season also marks his eighth different team. Barnes is not a player with wow-type numbers (career 7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), but his hustle, intensity, and commitment on the defensive end caused him to catch even Kobe’s eyes. The blue-collar forward has also logged 25 career playoff games, so the bright lights that he’ll likely see in June shouldn’t intimidate him.
The Lakers had a definite void at the SF position off of their bench last season. Luke Walton, despite playing in only 29 games, led their reserve SFs with 2.4 ppg and 1.3 rpg in 9.4 minutes. With Adam Morrison likely on his way out, Barnes’s only competition for minutes will come from Walton and rookie Devin Ebanks. Look for Barnes to provide the Lakers with another stellar defensive small forward when he spells Ron Artest.
Last Season: Utah Jazz/Memphis Grizzlies
This Season: Chicago Bulls
The former Kobe-stopper in Utah will now be called upon to be the Dwyane Wade-stopper in the Windy City. The fifth-year swingman out of Arkansas is another player with adequate offensive numbers (career 10.3 ppg), but Brewer’s play on the other end of the floor is where he’ll make his mark. Brewer’s 2.51 steals per 48 minutes were fourth-best in the league last season and the Bulls expect to see more of the same this year.
Brewer will battle fellow newcomers Keith Bogans and Kyle Korver for the minutes vacated by Kirk Hinrich, who was sent packing to the nation’s capital in a cost-cutting move. Korver brings instant offense off the bench, but Brewer possesses the ability to lock down the other team’s top perimeter option. Given new Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive mentality, Brewer should grab the starting spot.
Last Season: San Antonio Spurs/Charlotte Bobcats
This Season: L.A. Lakers
The former Wyoming Cowboy is entering his 16th season and still contributing. After a disappointing year and a half split between Phoenix and San Antonio, Ratliff re-emerged as a team leader for the upstart Charlotte Bobcats last season. He knows his niche and executes it on a nightly basis, as evidenced by his 2.45 blocks per game, 12th best all time.
Ratliff certainly won’t push Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum out of the starting lineup, but the Lakers didn’t bring him in to do that.
The Lakers need Ratliff to add his shot blocking ability and nastiness on defense to a squad criticized only a few years ago as too soft to win a championship. And speaking of Bynum, the young man has missed 17 or more games in four of his five years in the league so the Lakers will need Theo for Bynum’s annual trip to the sideline. Or best case scenario, Theo logs enough minutes to help Bynum stay fresh and healthy throughout the year.
Last Season: Washington Wizards
This Season: L.A. Clippers
The fifth-year combo guard out of Villanova brings the Clippers some much-needed scoring off of the bench and looks poised to make a run at this year’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Foye increased his scoring and assists in his first three years in Minnesota, before being dealt before last season to Washington, where his minutes were reduced to 23.8. Foye is one season removed from pouring in 16.3 ppg and has averaged over 12 points for his career.
The Clippers hope Foye will help them replace the 26.3 minutes logged each game by Steve Blake, who remains in the Staples Center but this year will suit up in purple and gold. Foye also provides insurance for the Clippers’ starting backcourt of Baron Davis and Eric Gordon, who missed a combined 27 games last season. Foye should be the first player off of the Clippers bench and his instant offense could boost a squad that’s quickly becoming the sexy sleeper pick of many analysts. The Clippers' only other guards under contract for next season are rookie Eric Bledsoe and Rasual Butler, who plays both shooting guard and small forward.
Last Season: Portland Trailblazers/L.A. Clippers
This Season: New Jersey Nets
Outlaw certainly wasn't the first choice of the Nets' front office at the beginning of the summer, but the lanky 25-year-old brings a versatile game to an up-and-coming Nets team. Outlaw missed a majority of last season with a broken bone in his left foot, but put up just over 13 ppg the previous two seasons for Portland. Outlaw’s size lets him play the power forward when his team wants to run and gun and his quickness and three-point shooting (career 36.3 percent) allow him to play the small forward.
New Jersey cut ties with Yi Jianlian and Courtney Lee this offseason and their combined 24.5 points and 65 minutes a night. Outlaw’s prospects at the power forward look slim considering the team acquired Troy Murphy from the Pacers and drafted Derrick Favors with the third overall selection. But with Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts both gone, Terrence Williams should see most of his minutes at the shooting guard, leaving Outlaw the majority of the minutes at small forward. Of course, this is all assuming that Murphy and his expiring contract are not dealt at some point for a certain player from the Denver Nuggets who has caught the attention of the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets.
Last Season: Miami Heat
This Season: Golden State Warriors
For whatever reason, the media took much more notice of the players taking their talents to South Beach and not as much for the guys taking theirs from Miami. But Bay Area fans certainly took notice of the super-athletic swingman with six seasons, three postseason trips, and a championship ring all coming before his 25th birthday. Wright was often given the assignment of stopping the opposing team’s perimeter scorer, and will give the Warriors a perimeter defensive presence they haven’t had since last year’s ugly divorce with Stephen Jackson.
Wright brings size, athleticism, and defensive prowess to a team in need of all three. Wright has the quickness to play at the shooting guard, but is projected to start at the small forward. The Warriors need Wright to help fill the void created when they parted ways with swingmen Corey Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike, and Raja Bell.
Golden State hopes that Wright is the defender he showed he could be in Miami as this team has more than enough offense coming from their own trio. Wright’s athleticism should shine with a rising floor general like Stephen Curry on the floor. If nothing else, Wright should be the biggest offseason acquisition in the Bay Area not named Jeremy Lin!
Last Season: Miami Heat
This Season: Boston Celtics
O’Neal is no longer the perennial All-Star he once was as a Pacer, but he remains a productive player capable of pushing a good team over the championship hump. His career numbers show a player who consistently produces (14.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg). He’s a capable back-to-the-basket scorer and his trademark midrange jumper should clear out the lane for Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo to drive at will.
O’Neal joins an ever-crowding Celtics frontcourt that boasts Celtics’ staples Big Baby Davis, Kendrick Perkins (out indefinitely), and Kevin Garnett, as well as fellow newcomers Shaquille O’Neal and rookie Luke Harangody. He should benefit from being out of the limelight of Miami, where he was brought in to be Wade’s running mate. He could enjoy not being the most media-sought O’Neal on his own team. He’s not the 20-plus point scorer he was during his Indiana days, but he could be exactly what the Celtics need to compete with his former squad.
Last Season: Washington Wizards
This Season: Miami Heat
The 11th-year sharpshooter was just one of many genius offseason moves by Pat Riley, aka NBA Executive of the Year for the next six seasons. No one will tell you that Miller’s arrival will be the most important for the Heat, but it could be just as crucial as those other two big names. With three-point specialist Daequan Cook now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra should be able to pencil in a few minutes each night for one of the league’s best perimeter shooters (his 48 percent last season left him second behind Kyle Korver for players with 10-plus attempts).
Miller has shown the ability to score wherever he’s been, averaging less than double-digits just once (9.9 ppg in 2008-09 with Minnesota). But unlike a majority of the league’s elite shooters, Miller has shown at least the effort to contribute on both ends of the floor. Still, Miller’s main contribution to the team will be the threat of his three-point shot and the spacing it will create for Miami Thrice to do what they do best.
Last Season: Charlotte Bobcats
This Season: New York Knicks
Depending on who you believe, Felton could be just a stop-gap point guard for the Knicks holding Chris Paul's spot until 2012. But no matter his role in the team’s future plans, the sixth-year player out of North Carolina will certainly be this: productive. His career numbers point to a floor general on the rise (13.3 ppg and 6.4 apg). Even though his scoring and assist numbers last season were the lowest since his rookie year, his turnovers were the fewest he’s ever averaged (2.1).
Forgive him if you catch him cheesing like a five-year-old on Christmas morning this season, but Felton’s newly acquired toys have the Knicks rising up every experts’ board. Felton was one of many offseason acquisitions for New York (as well he should have been, considering the Knicks have been pinpointing this season for about three years now). Amar’e Stoudemire brought the most media attention, but Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf, Roger Mason, Jr., and rookies Landry Fields, Andy Rautins, and Timofey Mozgov are all new pieces for Mike D’Antoni to fit in his system.
Look for Felton to battle teammate Anthony Randolph for this year’s Most Improved Player Award.
Last Season: New York Knicks
This Season: Denver Nuggets
Scoring alone, Harrington is an All-Star. For his career, he’s poured in just over 14 a night, but in just under two full seasons in Mike D’Antoni’s system, he averaged over 19. Harrington possesses an above-average perimeter shot (career 35.5 percent) and the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive around bigger, slower big men. A determination on the glass would certainly help, as he’s averaged seven-plus rebounds just once in his career, but that determination would also keep him off the list as he would fly under the radar no more.
By the end of the season, anyone of the top three on this list could occupy this spot. But Harrington grabbed it because of his situation and the type of impact he could have on a very talented Nuggets team. He was brought in to help the Nuggets weather the storm that is the lingering injuries to big men Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, both out indefinitely. The only other power forward on the roster is Shelden Williams, who’s most famous for being the husband of Candace Parker.
Harrington has the ability to keep the Nuggets among the West’s elite, and provides a scary option off the bench should K-Mart reclaim his starting spot when he returns. However, this is all assuming that Carmelo Anthony is around to see the return of the Birdman and K-Mart. If not, Harrington will probably have another good season for another subpar team.